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Basho's Journey

The Literary Prose of Matsuo Basho

Matsuo Basho, David Landis Barnhill

Publication Year: 2005

In Bashoµ’s Journey, David Landis Barnhill provides the definitive translation of Matsuo Bashoµ’s literary prose, as well as a companion piece to his previous translation, Bashoµ’s Haiku. One of the world’s greatest nature writers, Bashoµ (1644–1694) is well known for his subtle sensitivity to the natural world, and his writings have influenced contemporary American environmental writers such as Gretel Ehrlich, John Elder, and Gary Snyder. This volume concentrates on Bashoµ’s travel journal, literary diary (Saga Diary), and haibun. The premiere form of literary prose in medieval Japan, the travel journal described the uncertainty and occasional humor of traveling, appreciations of nature, and encounters with areas rich in cultural history. Haiku poetry often accompanied the prose. The literary diary also had a long history, with a format similar to the travel journal but with a focus on the place where the poet was living. Bashoµ was the first master of haibun, short poetic prose sketches that usually included haiku. As he did in Bashoµ’s Haiku, Barnhill arranges the work chronologically in order to show Bashoµ’s development as a writer. These accessible translations capture the spirit of the original Japanese prose, permitting the nature images to hint at the deeper meaning in the work. Barnhill’s introduction presents an overview of Bashoµ’s prose and discusses the significance of nature in this literary form, while also noting Bashoµ’s significance to contemporary American literature and environmental thought. Excellent notes clearly annotate the translations.

Published by: State University of New York Press


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Title Page

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p. ix

Although Matsuo Bashō (1644–1694) was certainly a great poet, his true genius only unfolds in his literary prose. The great theme in his prose is the journey, a path through nature, time, spiritual reality, and one’s life: “Each day is a journey, the journey itself home.” This translation has certainly..

Selected Chronology of the Life of Matsuo Bashō / Maps

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pp. xi-xvii

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Introduction: Bashō's Journey

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pp. 1-12

In mid-autumn of 1684, the Japanese haikai1 poet Matsuo Bashō set off from Edo (now Tokyo) on a journey. Accompanied by his friend and disciple Chiri, he stopped at his native village of Ueno in Iga Province, where his mother had died the previous year. He also traveled to the Grand Shrine at Ise,...

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1. Journal of Bleached Bones in a Field

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pp. 13-22

I set out on a journey of a thousand leagues, packing no provisions. I leaned on the staff of an ancient who, it is said, entered into nothingness under the midnight moon. It was the first year of Jōkyō, autumn, the eighth moon. As I left my ramshackle hut by the river, the sound of the wind was ...

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2. Kashima Journal

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pp. 23-27

Cherishing the memory of this follower of the poetic spirit, I resolved to see the moon over the mountains of Kashima Shrine this autumn. I was accompanied by two men, a masterless samurai3 and an itinerant monk. The monk was dressed in robes black as a crow...

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3. Knapsack Notebook

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pp. 29-42

Among these hundred bones and nine orifices1 there is something. For now let’s call it “gauze in the wind.” 2 Surely we can say it’s thin, torn easily by a breeze. It grew fond of mad poetry3 long ago and eventually...

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4. Sarashina Journal

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pp. 45-48

In the relentless autumn wind my heart grew unsettled, filled with longing to view the moon over Mount Obasute1 in Sarashina village. My friend Etsujin, also drawn by the wind and clouds, accompanied me. The Kiso Road runs...

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5. The Narrow Road to the Deep North

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pp. 49-77

Months and days are the wayfarers of a hundred generations, the years too, going and coming, are wanderers.1 For those who drift life away on a boat, for those who meet age leading a horse by the mouth, each day is a journey, the journey itself home. Among Ancients, too, many...

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6. Saga Diary

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pp. 79-89

On the 18th day of Fourth Month, fourth year of Genroku, I journey to Saga and Kyorai’s “Villa of Fallen Persimmons.” Bonchō accompanies me and stays till evening, then returns to Kyōto. Because I plan to...

Selected Haibun

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pp. 91-142


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pp. 145-180


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pp. 181-184


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pp. 185-187


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pp. 189-191

E-ISBN-13: 9780791483435
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791464137
Print-ISBN-10: 079146413X

Page Count: 210
Illustrations: 4 maps
Publication Year: 2005

OCLC Number: 62750462
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Basho's Journey

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Subject Headings

  • Matsuo, Bashō, 1644-1694 -- Travel -- Japan.
  • Japan -- Description and travel -- Early works to 1800.
  • Authors, Japanese, -- Edo period, 1600-1868 -- Travel.
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